Thresholds of violence: at home and abroad

Last week I said we were having the wrong debate about gun control. I think my points still stand, but in the context of school shootings I was arrested by Malcolm Gladwell this week in the New Yorker. How is it that in a nation with no meaningful change in the number of people with guns and an overall reduction in violent crime we see a continued uptick in mass shootings committed by young, white men?

Someone had to pick up the first rock
Gladwell compares the school shootings epidemic to rioting, in that as more and more shootings happen, it lowers the threshold for someone else to follow suit. In a riot, only a few people are willing to through the first rock. But as greater numbers join in, it becomes easier to follow along with the crowd. The shootings all following similar patterns that trace back to Columbine, similar profiles of the shooters themselves and specific nature of the crimes suggests to Gladwell that these are people who might not ordinarily commit these crimes — but that every time someone else does, it becomes easier for others to join in. It's a terrifying thought, if true, since it suggests neither gun control nor mental health screening can prevent this from continuing. 

Steve Sarkisian's exit at USC
This Grantland piece on Steve Sarkisian's firing largely focuses on the impact to USC football. In reading this (and other coverage), I'm struck by how sad his struggle with alcoholism is. Being a college football coach is an incredibly stressful job, and trying to balance that on top of a divorce makes me empathize with why he sought refuge in the bottle. I've had times in my life (also before, during and right after a divorce) where I've felt like I had to drink to feel good. I wish nothing but the best for Sarkisian as he tries to get his life back on track.

Amex: losing Costco and cachet
When Amex lost its Costco deal earlier this year, I shrugged my shoulders. To me the American Express brand has always represented a certain level of success and cachet: black cards, platinum cards, concierges and travel. This report is so surprising when it reveals how much the Amex business is now tied to co-branded cards. Another example of a brand deviating from its core promise to chase growth in the short-term, and paying for it in the long.

How to counter Putin in Syria
Secretaries Robert Gates and Condolezza Rice weigh in this week with an editorial on how to best counter our Russian adversaries in Syria. Without being war-mongering at all, the two argue for a level of realism devoid from foreign policy at times (both the past six years and in those heady years leading up to the Iraq War): accepting the facts as they are, and being assertive in a way that allows us to dictate the game, instead of being reactive. Not that these suggestions will make a difference, because...

Barry knows best.
Just as the houses of Congress have become increasingly close-minded and politicized these past years, so has the White House. It's disturbing to read about the culture that's developed under President Obama, where conclusions are determined prior to policy viewpoints, experts are disregarded, and access to the President is gated based on political affiliation. The author of my previous link wrote at great length about this frustration in his book Duty, and a lot of our foreign policy misplays, I think, can be attributed as such. It's a reminder that as we enter the 2016 election cycle, executive experience and ability to wield a complex bureaucracy should be prized as much or more than ideological purity.

Uber is not adding to the congestion in Manhattan
Data! After Mayor de Blasio made a case for more tightly restricting Uber because of its contribution to congestion in lower Manhattan, it begged the question: is that actually true? The data is in, and the answer is probably not. The total number of pickups in New York City (and specifically lower Manhattan) are fairly static. Uber has been growing, but at the expense of yellow cabs, not additional fares. It's a vindication of what happens when you give consumers a choice. They're voting with their feet, and cabs can either complain about it, or evolve alongside Uber to win back market share.